Celebrity Climate Campaigns Only Go So Far. Your Nagging Girlfriend Matters More.

david beckham endorsement photo

Image credit: Matt Brown, used under Creative Commons license.

While I welcome celebrities fighting Heathrow's expansion, or chefs stepping up to challenge unsustainable fishing, I must admit I have always been more than a little skeptical about celebrity campaigns for environmental awareness. A new report shows just which celebrities might have the most clout in inspiring climate action, and David Beckham was ranked right up there with Al Gore and Bill Gates. (Well, if he can sell fish pie, he can sell solar panels...) But others are arguing that focusing on celebrities is missing the point. Maybe it's our friends and family who hold the real power. Maybe, it's even those who nag us.Writing over at The Guardian Tony Juniper, former head of UK Friends of the Earth, argues we should forget Becks, it's friends and family who will drive environmental action. Responding to a report from the organizers of Climate Week that ranked 20 celebrities according to their environmental clout, Juniper suggests that it is really the people we interact with day-in and day-out that will have the most influence on us:

"If an entire street obsessively and visibly recycled everything possible, most people would join in rather than being odd ones out. If your group of friends all decided to buy locally produced food you would be statistically more likely to do the same."

So far, I have no argument with the man. Cultural shift happens as we observe those around us applying their environmental ethics, and we realize that the paradigm of what is, and what is not, considered ethical behavior has shifted. (Attitudes to littering, for example, have shifted monumentally since I was a kid.)

What interests me, though, is that Juniper argues that it is not just leading by example that makes a difference. While I have always been wary of the eco-nag as giving us greenies a bad name, there is apparently some research to suggest that a well-placed moan can make all the difference—depending on who is doing the moaning, of course:

"People trust those they know. Our partners have the greatest influence on the decisions we make (so say 58% of people) and their impact is partly due to nagging. Some 69% of men say they are most likely to be influenced by those that nag them. Our friends have a huge amount of sway as well (41% cite their influence). That cuts both ways - that means our friends will listen to us as well as us listening to them. There is well-known psychology behind these results. The simple fact is that we humans generally don't like to go against the grain. We are social creatures and our social order is constructed out of behavioural norms that - by and large - we sign up to."

Maybe it's OK to nag after all.

More on Communication, Activism, Morality and Sustainability
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Green Living: Leading By Example or Passive Aggressive Preaching?
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